Core reading will be a lot harder

Teachers will assign more complex, challenging reading – if they follow Common Core standards, concludes a Fordham analysis of what students are reading now.

Currently, many teachers try to assign books that match their students’ reading skills, especially at the elementary level. Common Core calls for assigning grade-level reading and giving students extra help to understand it.

In trying to improve reading comprehension, schools made a tragic mistake: they took time away from knowledge-building courses such as science and history to clear the decks for more time on reading skills and strategies. And the impact, particularly on our most disadvantaged students whose content and vocabulary gap is so great, has been devastating.

Teachers are assigning “relevant” and “easily digested books” in hopes of getting students to read, according to Common Core in the Schools.

. . . classic literature has, in many classrooms, been replaced by popular teen novels (often made into movies) such as The Hunger Games and Twilight. Indeed, the former, according to Renaissance Learning . . . became the most widely read book in grades 9-12 following its theatrical release in 2012. Yet it is pegged at a fifth-grade reading level.

The most-assigned books are Because of Winn-DixieAnne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and To Kill a Mockingbird, the Fordham survey finds.  Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail also is assigned frequently.

“Across all grade levels…there was a tendency to err on the side of lower-level books,” says Fordham’s Kathleen Porter-Magee.

In fourth and fifth grade, students should read texts with a lexile range of 740 to 1100, according to Common Core. Four of the top 10 books are below that level, including Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Middle-schoolers should be reading texts in the 950 to 1185 range, according to Common Core. Seven of the 10 most popular books for this age group aren’t challenging enough. (Is John Steinbeck’s The Pearl really an elementary book?)

Ninth- and tenth-graders should be reading texts with a lexile range of 1050 to 1335, the new standards say.  Five of the 10 most popular books don’t meet that level of difficulty. (I guess To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn often are read in earlier grades. I took a “look inside” The Book Thief, which allegedly has a lexile rank too low for fourth graders. It’s not Dick, Jane and Sally.)

Fifty-one percent of teachers surveyed — all in states that have adopted Common Core standards – said they’d made little or no change to their teaching as a result of the new standards.

Teacher: ‘Cold reading’ is boring, shallow

Common Core Standards’ recommended English lessons are shallow and boring, writes teacher Jeremiah Chaffee on Answer Sheet.  Along with colleagues at his upstate New York high school, he spent a day on an “exemplar” lesson that calls for “cold reading” the Gettysburg Address. Teachers are told not to introduce the speech or discuss the Civil War, he writes.

Students are not asked to connect what they read yesterday to what they are reading today, or what they read in English to what they read in science.

The exemplar, in fact, forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely “on individual experience and opinion,” and answering them “will not move students closer to understanding the Gettysburg Address.”

. . .  it is impossible to have any deep understanding of Lincoln’s speech without thinking about the context of the speech: a memorial service.

Teachers are told to read the speech aloud, pronouncing the words clearly, but not dramatizing it.

That’s not good teaching, writes Chaffee, a 13-year veteran. He thinks Common Core’s stress on just-the-words reading is designed to prepare students for tests.

David Coleman, who co-wrote the English Language Arts standards, demonstrates a close-reading lesson on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail here via EngageNY on Vimeo.  Is this good teaching?